So you’ve had to fire someone. Whatever the reason, it was likely one of the toughest things you’ve ever had to do as a supervisor or manager. So you lost some sleep, sucked it up, took a deep breath and did it. The hard part is over now, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, the toughest part is taking care of those who are left behind. The biggest challenges lie in the hours, days, weeks, and even months following.
Any kind of employee termination can have a negative impact on the other employees on your team unless you take positive steps to overcome it. Even if your staff “saw it coming” or felt “it’s about time,” the termination leaves remaining team members unsteady and insecure. This means that you must take action or run the risk of having your team weaken and falter. What to do to get your people re-grouped, re-focused, and moving forward? Concentrate on four things.
Talk to Your People
Within minutes of the axe falling, gather your team together in one room and bring them up to date. In-person is always best, but call conference the absent ones in. They need to hear from you what has happened, and not through the company’s grapevine (which, by the way, is crackling with electricity at this very moment). Explain the circumstances with as much honesty as you possibly can, but without violating the departed employee’s privacy.
Talking to your people is a critical step; I have worked with far too many organizations that choose not to discuss the subject because they are concerned about confidentiality issues or negative employee response. But the reality is that the rumour mill is working overtime, and if there is an information vacuum, employees dream up scenarios and possibilities. Invariably, what they make up is always the worst possible state of affairs. Instead of starving the rumour mill, it is actually in your (and your department’s) best interest to feed it with as much accurate information as you can.
Tell your staff exactly how many people were laid off. Give details about sales projections and cost overruns that were the basis of your decision. Explain exactly which company policy was violated. Make it clear the decision to terminate was not made lightly; that the employee was given several opportunities to improve his performance before he was finally let go. But speak in specifics, not generalities.
The most frequent reason managers give for not wanting to discuss the subject in the first place is this dread of questions. “I don’t know what to tell them” is a common refrain. But your people need to ask questions – it is part of the healing process. For some, their pain is based in the fear of being next on the chopping block; others will be mourning lost friends, and some will be focused on whether their workload is going to increase. No matter what the reason, your staff need to ask questions, and you need to answer … as honestly and completely as you can. Again, a good rule is to tell all, without violating the privacy of a terminated individual. And don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” People appreciate an honest answer over silence.
Reassure Your Employees
Granted, if you responded with “I don’t know” you may not be in a position to provide full reassurance. But as long as it’s true, it’s important to point out that the departed employee was fired after she was given ample opportunity to turn her performance around. Similarly, if it’s true, tell your people that this was the only round of cutbacks, and no more are anticipated. Your people need to be bolstered, and they need you to restore their confidence. When a co-worker is fired, it creates anxiety and uncertainty in even the most seasoned professionals. As the leader, it’s up to you to take care of those left behind.
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